Paying It Forward: Mariska Hargitay

Have you ever had someone do something unexpected for you… something so nice that you had to pinch yourself to see if you were dreaming? …Something that if anyone had asked you if you wanted it, you would have said no because you didn’t feel worthy enough?

Last week, I was informed by KC, one of those extra-special people, that I was scheduled for a Meet ‘n Greet with Mariska Hargitay. It’s common knowledge among my friends that I am a long-time fan of Mariska, not only for her professional achievements, but more importantly as a person.

Mariska is best known for her role as the New York Police Department Special Victims Unit Captain, as Olivia Benson in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

She has starred in the show since its premiere in 1999 and is its longest-running cast member. Mariska is the daughter of bodybuilder and actor, Mickey Hargitay and actress Jayne Mansfield. With these two beautiful parents, it’s no wonder that Mariska is a beauty also. However, the credit for being a beautiful person on the inside all goes straight to her.

Let me start off by saying I am not a star seeker. I honor the work they do, but I’m not one to be in awe of someone because they are a celebrity. So, I wasn’t nervous at all. I had thought of one or two questions I wanted to ask, time permitting.

What draws me to others is the person behind the work, not only Hollywood stars but in real life. I’ve been blessed to meet wonderful, real people in all walks of life.

At the appointed time, I was connected through Zoom to Mariska who was in her home library. I was greeted with a smiling face and a warm welcome, as if we were old friends.

I started by thanking her for all the good work she does and the role model she is for so many by demonstrating honesty, strength, integrity, credibility and justice.

As a result of her character on the show, women survivors started reaching out to Mariska, feeling a connection, and thinking she could do something for them.

These letters awakened something in Mariska and she knew she had to use her platform to do something special. She actually became a certified rape counselor in real life which enabled her to better talk with, and help these women move on with their lives. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Mariska went on to found the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization that provides support to survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. (

Top 5 People I Admire

So why did Mariska make it on to my list?

Seeing someone live an authentic life, use their talents, gifts, resources, and give of themselves to help others is someone singing my song… someone paying it forward.

As a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence myself, I didn’t learn until late in life that I was not the only one. I suffered in silence and carried shame every minute of every day.

In my second book, Secrets to Celebrations, I am sharing how my desire to have the abuse cycle stop with me impacted my decisions and my life … some of it good and some not so good.

With help from Mariska’s foundation women can get the help they need, but are often afraid to ask for. Support which will help them connect, share, gain understanding and become better prepared to move forward … much more quickly than I did.

That’s the person Mariska … that’s how she made it to my Top 5.

As we continued our conversation, Mariska and I didn’t talk about the show or her career, with one exception. I told her I had taken her with me around the world.

After her puzzling look, I explained that I had downloaded multiple seasons of Law and Order: SVU. After a long day, whether in China, Africa, Dubai, or Europe, I would watch a couple of episodes before calling it a day. She laughed and said she had not been to Dubai. We both laughed as I told her that she’d been there in spirit, if not in body.

One of my questions for Mariska was: “What do you think are the biggest challenges facing women today, and what thoughts did you have for addressing them?” I think I might have surprised her with this deep question. True to form and true to herself, she didn’t give me a flippant answer. She pondered and then we discussed her thoughts for the next several minutes.

One of my takeaways from our discussion was that we need to believe that we can. Sometimes our go-to-place is “I don’t deserve it,” or “I can’t do it,” or “That’s meant for someone else.”

She described a poster in her daughter’s room that says, “She believed she could so she did.” I stepped away from the computer just long enough to pull a small book from my bookshelf authored by Kathy Weller. The title, She Believed She Could So She Did. (Click here to check it out.)

Mariska told me about three books her husband had bought her and of course being the reader that I am, I later ordered all three, haha! She then shared an experience she had while meditating. During meditation, she saw a heart within her own heart with vines growing out of the heart and flowing through her body.

What a beautiful visual …love stemming from, and growing out of your heart. She ended up in a friend’s art gallery and was surprised to see what appeared to be to be a 3-4” thick, piece of glass with the outline of a human figure inside appearing to be made of vines…. Wow.

Heart, love, joy, growing and reaching out to others… again, my song! Needless to say, the art piece went home with her and she unwrapped it and showed it to me while we were on or call.

You may have read one of my previous blogs on the power of Vision Boards. I am a believer. As I sit here in my home office, looking at my vision board (created in 2020 and expanded in 2021), I see not one, but two photos of who else, Mariska!

When I put these two photos up, I wasn’t thinking about ever meeting her, or talking with her, or getting her thoughts on helping women. Instead, I put the photos up, for her quotations that accompanied them.

For me, as a woman, a professional, a consultant, a coach, and a survivor whose mission is to help individuals and leaders in all walks of life step into the next best version of themselves, Mariska’s quotes not only resonated with me, but are part of who I am.

Each and every day, I try to touch hearts and minds through verbal and written word, to help each person “see” that they are not the only one going through or having gone through what they have… and to help them “know” that they belong, they matter, they make a difference and that they are capable of so much more than they can imagine.

Before we finished our 30-minute call (which was originally scheduled for 15), Mariska said “Joan, I want to go back and add something to my answer about what we need to do to help women … ‘We need to see each other and to let ourselves be seen…’.”

I believe truer words were never spoken. I see individuals every day who are letting fear hold them back. Much of that fear is in our own minds and once in the light of day, it becomes a paper tiger. Scary looking, but no longer with any power.

Allowing ourselves to see and be seen, enables us to overcome the fear, stand tall and move forward into our best selves.

Yes, I was given a once in a lifetime gift and for that I will be eternally grateful. Thank you, KC! The gift was much more than meeting a movie star. The gift was connecting with another soul who in so many ways is just like you and me. I will always cherish the time Mariska shared with me and the validation I received that she has a rightful place on my Top 5 list.

Synchronicity has been described as meaningful (or even miraculous) coincidences of life. Personally, I believe my meeting with Mariska is yet another example of synchronicity playing out in my life. How about yours? Are you paying attention? Are you attracting it?

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  1. Deborah

    Wow Joan. Another incredibly authentic and inspiring article from the wellspring that is your heart. Thanks for this lovely piece.

  2. Cheryl

    So you to prepare for your introduction to Mariska with a meaningful question, your trusty books at your fingertips and your embracement of her humanity. I suspect she felt just as happy to spend time with you as you did with her. I know that is always true for me!

  3. GustavoGex

    Нашел сам варианты в Новосибирске, рядом со мной… а для Дмитрия перелет через полстраны… предложил — оплачиваю расходы, приедь помоги, не хочу ошибиться…

  4. PeterVeink

    Но главное, ребенок сбросил в весе, общее состояние его было просто восхитительным – я бы сказала, такой семейной больницы я еще не видела, молодцы, столько детей – без родителей лежат и они смогли так умело организовать процесс и сбалансировать всё! да и всё это по полису – включая 4хА4 анализов (про некоторые я даже не слыхала – а я стараюсь идти в ногу со временем?), которые не сделают вам нигде – это серьезно! – подтверждено нашими врачами из поликлиники – они собрали целый консилиум – на изучение этих самых анализов– в понедельник после нашей выписки (выписывались в пятницу).

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  6. Your point of view caught my eye and was very interesting. Thanks. I have a question for you.

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